NASS and the challenge of electronic parliament

YEMIE FASH

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NASS and the challenge of electronic parliament

RECENTLY, the Acting Clerk to the National Assembly, Ojo Olatunde Amos, rolled out a cardinal programme to make a huge difference in the affairs of the National Assembly. This was when the Centre for Legislative Engagement, an arm of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy and Advancement (YIAGA), paid him a courtesy visit in his office recently. Ojo declared that one of his administration’s goals was “to transform the National Assembly for better delivery of constitutional responsibilities that are of international standards in lawmaking,  representation and oversight.” Given the fact that the National Assembly suffered debilitating setbacks for many decades as a result of the military’s unnecessary incursion into governance, which stunted its even development, the quest to digitize legislative activities is a laudable development.

As the biggest democracy in Nigeria, the issue of electronic parliament for the  House of Representatives, and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is long overdue. It is a fact that the electronic parliament has long been introduced in most democracies in the western hemisphere to ease legislative duties and operations,  and that the introducing the e-parliament for the National Assembly here in Nigeria will definite go a long way in accelerating the process of lawmaking. In fact, a frustrating scenario developed within the National Assembly during the critical months when a  lockdown was imposed on the country by both the Federal Government and states. The lacunas noticed during the lockdown would not have been so noticeable if the National Assembly had put in place e-parliament for the benefit of its staff in particular and the lawmakers in general.

It will be recalled that the National Assembly was shut down for more than a month as a result of the global efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. In that suffocating process, most of the affairs of the Upper Legislature were left in limbo. Therefore, the benefits of e-parliament cannot be overemphasised. Apart from developing ICT, so that when anyone comes into the National Assembly, whether you are a media practitioner or you belong to one group or the other, you  can easily log on and access anywhere in the world. In the words of the Acting Clerk, e-parliament is an urgent idea whose time has come to stay. Flowing from the fantastic intention to make the National Assembly e-parliament-compliant, it is very important for the National Assembly to urgently amend its rules to accommodate tele-conferencing and video conferencing, which will go a long way in facilitating remote legislative assignments like  public hearings, public petitions and, above all, committee meetings. There is no doubt that the above perspective, in complimenting the avowed positive intension of Ojo, will guarantee that the legislative business is not disrupted or slowed down due to the still prevailing global pandemic, which inevitably calls for social distancing.

This plan to embark on vigorous training and re-training of all categories of staff of the National Assembly, especially legislative aides, in this regard, is a welcome thing; therefore, one must commend the Acting Clerk to the National Assembly for his determination to succeed in this laudable mission. It is imperative too that lawmakers should be included in the plan, to achieve 100 per cent institutionalisation of e-parliament of the nation’s highest Legislative chambers. Honestly, using technology to boost the activities of the National Assembly will drastically improve effectiveness and efficiency. The issue of further capacity building along with ICT training for the benefit of staff of the Upper Legislative body will greatly encourage them to work towards  greater job delivery, and guarantee further global legislative best practices. This development has further demonstrated the preoccupations of a reformer who believes in the entrenchment of improvement in service delivery. The intiative on e-parliament is indeed a demonstration of unwavering capacity to impact positively on the legislative environment. When the Acting Clerk to the National Assembly said “Whatsoever we need to do, we have decided to do it at this time,” that was an indication that it will not be business as usual in both chambers of parliament.